In the nine years I’ve been reporting on Coast Union football for the Cambrian — and doing play-by-play for KTEA-FM at every game, home and away — some Bronco teams have enjoyed success while others have ended up on the losing side of the ledger.
I’ve witnessed some very talented players on Bronco teams — which I will bring into focus in this column. I have also seen Coast Union teams short on skills that struggled against good opponents but nonetheless battled to the end with ferocity.
But this year’s team is in a category that I’ve yet to see. Three games into the 2016 season, this football team is the least talented, least prepared, the most disorganized, dispirited and confused group I’ve seen in any high school program.
Commitment has been an issue at Coast Union.
Thom Holt, head football coach
The majority of boys who represent the school on the gridiron lack fundamental football skills. So far, they don’t seem to have a grasp of the passion and intensity that football demands. I reported every play on the radio as I watched them lose 75-0 in their home opener; 25-0 at Fresno Christian (the game was called after one quarter); and 58-0 at Laguna Blanca on Sept. 9.
Hence, the school’s decision to cancel the game last Friday (Sept. 16) against Cate School — a powerhouse, hard-hitting eight-man team from an elite conference that would likely have physically subjugated Coast — made good sense. In fairness to head coach Thom Holt, to the program and players, there are practical explanations for the pitiful showing by the team thus far and I will present those later in this column.
Talented Broncos: T.J. Nelson
T.J. Nelson’s family moved to Cambria from Massachusetts in 2006, and Nelson, a junior, joined the Broncos, ending up with 1,375 yards gained on 132 carries, resulting in 16 touchdowns.
But his 2007 totals were off the charts. Nelson gained an eye-popping 2,233 yards on 280 carries, scoring 25 touchdowns for the Broncos. This was my first football season as a reporter in Cambria, and I was frankly astonished at Nelson’s speed and savvy. His ability to avoid tackles, to shed tacklers hanging on to him, to simply jump over defenders — and sometimes to run through them — was unlike any high school running back I had ever seen or have seen since.
Talented Broncos: Sam Rivera
Sophomore running back Sam Rivera opened a lot of eyes in 2008 with his blazing speed and ability to explode through even the narrowest hole in the line. Rivera picked up 951 yards on 144 carries, and tallied eight touchdowns. In 2009 he shared chores with junior runner Zach Brooke — another gifted ball carrier who netted 781 yards on 133 carries — and picked up 503 yards on 90 carries. In his senior year Rivera battled injuries and gained just 349 yards, but he caught 16 passes for 375 yards and chalked up 66 tackles on defense.
Talented Broncos: Andy Gordon
In his only year of football, junior running back Andy Gordon made a huge impression with his freewheeling, get-out-of-my-way approach to offense. A teammate of Gordon’s called him “a beast” with the ball. Once he got into the open, he was tough to bring down. Gordon was big, fast, strong, determined and unafraid of a violent collision because he figured the defender might get the worst of that impact —and he was almost always right. He was the top ball carrier in 2010, crashing through the line with bruising energy for 649 yards (on 115 carries). Brooke was on his way to a breakout season in 2010, but he suffered a calamitous knee injury in the third game and gained only 327 yards.
Talented Broncos: Binh Trieu, Lane Sutherland and Angel Avina
The Broncos were having trouble getting sufficient talent to come out for 11-man football, so they switched to eight-man. No statistics were recorded for 2012, but I will never forget the talent that Coach Charlie Casale put on the field in 2012 and 2013, including offensive juggernauts Binh Trieu, Lane Sutherland and Angel Avina.
Trieu was shifty and extraordinarily quick; if he wasn’t tackled promptly, he was off to the races (he scored 12 touchdowns in 2013). Sutherland was a bruising fullback who could steamroll his way consistently to seven- and eight-yard gains. He bulled his way for 1,390 yards on 177 carries — and 15 touchdowns — in 2013, led the team in tackles with 58; and in 2014 he gained 644 yards on 131 carries).
Angel Avina, the Bronco quarterback in 2013, passed for 2,066 yards and ran for 1,259, by far had the most impressive showing for a signal caller in the years I’ve been covering Coast Union. He made some remarkable plays on defense as well, but his ability to spot an opening and slice swiftly through the line for yardage on offense was incredible.
The statistics for 2015 were apparently only based on five games, but the leading Bronco ball carrier was Alam Ramirez who rushed for 652 yards on 70 carries, according to MaxPreps.
The 2016 Broncos
In most previous years, football coaches expected players to show up at the beginning of August for workouts and to pump iron. That didn’t happen this year. In email responses to questions posed, Holt said that “commitment has been an issue at Coast Union.” New Coast Union principal Scott Ferguson said players were “undecided about playing” this summer, another way of saying what Holt said, which explains the trickle of players who showed up for summer workouts.
Ferguson added that the Santa Lucia Middle School will become a “feeder program” its flag football program is up and running; currently, most student athletes come to Coast Union with virtually no football experience.
Safety always comes first.
Scott Ferguson, Coast Union principal
Holt said kids in the current generation “never watch football” and “it’s frustrating sometimes” to have to go back to square one with kids who have little or no understanding of the game.
“Safety always comes first,” Ferguson said, explaining the cancellation of the Cate game. Of course that’s the reason the game at Fresno Christian was suspended late in the first quarter; Coast had young, inexperienced, unprepared players being pushed around by older, experienced players — and minor injuries were piling up.
Now, Holt will have had 10 practice days with the 25 boys on his roster before the team travels to Riverdale Christian in the San Joaquin Valley for its next game, Saturday, Sept. 24. That game will be broadcast on KTEA-FM (103.5) at 1 p.m.
Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aug. 26 — Hesperia Christian 75, Coast 0
Sept. 2 — * Fresno Christian 25, Coast 0
Sept. 9 — Laguna Blanca 58, Coast 0
Sept. 16 — Cate at Coast, canceled
Sept. 24 — Coast at Riverdale, 1 p.m.
Sept. 30 — Coast at Cuyama Valley, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — Bye
Oct. 14 — Valley Christian Academy at Coast, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 — Coast at Shandon, 1 p.m.
Oct. 28 — Maricopa at Coast, 7 p.m.
* Game called after first quarter.